What Are The National Spelling Bee Rules? Scripps' Guidelines Aren't Bumbling Around

Bettie Closs of North Carolina, spells her word, 'osteomalacia,' during the 3rd round of the 88th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, May 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The 89th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee is kicking off Tuesday. This year, there are 285 contestants competing to win the title of champion, along with a cash prize of $40,000 and their very own engraved Scripps trophy, among other rewards. But with such a big pool of contestants of various ages and from various types of schools, what are the National Spelling Bee rules

The 2016 Spelling Bee will be held in the Maryland Ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The spellers vary between the ages of six and 15 years. Man, imagine being six years old and going up against competitors who are almost 10 years older. Another interesting fact about this year's group of spellers: They have a combined 471 siblings. That's a lot of kids. 

According to the competition's website, there are a very clear set of rules on everything from eligibility to the preliminaries format, the finals format, official dictionary spellings, and many other topics. And we're going to give you a quick overview of the official Spelling Bee rules, so that you can easily keep up with this year's competition if you tune in to watch

The Preliminaries

The Bee's preliminaries take place on May 24 and 25. On the first day, the spellers will take a multiple-choice test, and on the second day, they'll go through two rounds of oral onstage spelling. There are 36 points at stake for spellers during preliminaries  30 on the written test and three for each of the oral rounds. At the end of the day, spellers will receive an email with the points they've earned. A speller won't be immediately eliminated if they get a wrong answer on the written portion, but can be eliminated if they misspell a word during the two rounds of oral spelling. 

The Finals

During the finals on May 26, there will be rounds of onstage spelling that continue until a winner or co-winners are chosen. At this stage, if a participant misspells a word, they will be eliminated from the competition. If there is not a single winner at the end of 25 rounds, the Bee will declare co-winners, as long as there are three or fewer remaining contestants. Per the "End-of-Bee Procedure," if all spellers in a single round misspell their word, a new round will begin for them and they will remain in the competition. 

Dictionary Definitions And The Pronouncer's Role

The official dictionary of the competition is Webster's Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section. If there are multiple spellings listed for a single word, any of the spellings are acceptable as long as, "(1) the pronunciations are identical, (2) the definitions are identical, and (3) the words are identified as being variants of each other." 

When it comes to words with one or more homonyms, an official will make clear which word will be spelled by offering a definition of the word. The speller can request that the official repeat the pronunciation of a given word, provide alternate pronunciations, and the root of the word, if asked and if time allows.

There are certainly plenty of rules to keep track of if you want to win the Bee, so take a look at the full list of rules to keep up with the competition if you're tuning in to the live results. 

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